Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Recording of Goddard's Translation of Lankavatara Sutra

Here's a recording of the Lankavatara Sutra The whole sutra is “chanted” in English by Christian Pecaut with separate files for each chapter making 13 mp3 files.
I've downloaded the files and listen to them while I commute. It makes a wonderful commuting experience.  Pecault chants in a sing-song voice of rising and falling tones that create a very soothing and dynamic atmosphere of reverence. At times it seems that Pecaut is doing his best not to bust out laughing and only holding it together barely until he gets back on track.  

The Lankavatara version being recorded is the one translated by Dwight Goddard in his book A Buddhist Bible which is online at the Sacred Texts site:

The main thing I don't like about Goddard's translation is that both the words citta and vijnana are translated into English by using the same word "mind" which causes a lot of confusion when the discussion is about the 8 consciousnesses (vijnana). Thus translating "alayavijnana" as "universal mind" glosses over subtle nuances.

In his 2004 introduction to the etext version of the book, John Bruno Hare explained a bit about the style of translation that Goddard was presenting.
Hare wrote: "Goddard, particularly in this first edition, took the best available translation of key documents and edited them heavily to eliminate repetitious passages and extraneous material. So this is a readers edition, not a critical edition, of these texts. However, he did nothing to water down or simplify the message of the sutras; quite the contrary. One can read this book repeatedly and still come back with new insights on each reading."
But regardless of the translation technicalities, as the Lanka itself says in Goddard's translation,
"Anyone who teaches a doctrine that is dependent upon letters and words is a mere prattler, because Truth is beyond letters and words and books."
We read the Lanka correctly when we read and hear the truth of it and not just the words. This is what Huineng called "turning round the sutra" and "not being turned around by the sutra."

Lastly, for those who wondered where the Zen motto attributed to Bodhidharma came from, we see that the line "not established on word or letters" came from the Lankavatara that Bodhidharma was known to favor. Thus the scholars who claim that the motto came well after Bodhidharma have nothing to stand on when we see that the pieces of the motto came from the Lanka and Bodhidharma was a solid supporter of the Lanka.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New Translation of Lankavatara Sutra by Red Pine

I just came across Barry Briggs' blog post on Red Pine's new translation of the Lankavata Sutra that he posted about 3 weeks ago. Since the comments section was closed I decided to write some extended comments. Here is Mr. Briggs' original post:
Last week Counterpoint Press sent an "advance galley" copy of Red Pine's new translation of The Lankavatara Sutra. The book was on my Amazon "wish list," so I consider myself pretty fortunate.The Lankavatara Sutra played an important role in the development of Zen Buddhism and, according to legend, Bodhidharma passed on his personal copy to his dharma heir, Hui-k'o. As I understand it, this sutra is important for teaching that consciousness is reality itself. Further, it provides a detailed analysis of consciousness, heady reading for an unconscious fellow like myself.
Red Pine is known for his translations of the Diamond, Heart and Platform Sutras. This new translation looks fully annotated with notes and references, making it especially valuable for those of us who might not grasp its teaching.
Although I haven't read the text, I have skimmed randomly through it. Here's a gem that jumped off page 110:
Mahamati, words are not ultimate truth, nor is what they express ultimate truth. And how so? Ultimate truth is what buddhas delight in. And what words lead to is ultimate truth. But words are not ultimate truth. Ultimate truth is what is attained by the personal realization of buddha knowledge.
I plan to offer an actual review of the book in the coming months. In the meantime, you might pre-order through your favorite bookseller.

Some of the commenters on that page shared their reservations about Red Pine's translations suggesting that Red Pine doesn't have a very good grasp of the deeper ideas of Buddhist teaching.  I too am looking forward to Red Pine’s new translation, and I also have reservations about how Red Pine does translating.  But I strongly disagree that "the problem" with Red Pine's translations has anything to do with his not having "a good feel for what the texts are talking about." 

In my view, Red Pine knows exactly what he is doing, and I don’t think that his translations are invalid or illegitimate.  It is just that he is translating for the general non-Buddhist audience, so he does not worry about keeping the terminology strictly in accord with the original or presented in the technical jargon of Buddhist rhetoric.  People who have no background in the technical terms of Buddha Dharma won’t notice a thing and will be inspired by his translations. But when reviewing the translation against the original texts, it becomes clear that his primary goal in translating is to make the work the most palatable to the most people, not in keeping great accuracy for the original words or Buddhist concepts.  For me, knowing that is his goal, I can read his translations without getting my knickers in a twist about his using popular terminology rather than strictly Buddhist terminology. I know if I want the more strict translation to look elsewhere, and that does not prevent me from enjoying how Red Pine translates.


Mr. Briggs wrote,
As I understand it, this sutra is important for teaching that consciousness is reality itself. 

As D.T. Suzuki writes in his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra, the companion volume to his translation of the Lankavatara, there is a significant difference between the “consciousness-only” (vijnanamatra or vijnaptimatra) orientation of the Yogacara analysis and the “mind-only” (cittamatra) of the Ekayana (One Vehicle) taught in the Lankavatara. 

The doctrine expounded in the Lankavatara and also in the Avatamsaka-sutra is known as the Cittamatra and never as the Vijnanamatra or Vijnaptimatra as in the Yogacara schoool of Asanga and Vasubandhu. (p. 181) 

The core refrain of the Lankavatara is that all things are discriminations to be seen as of mind itself.

In his introduction to his translation of the Lankavatara, Suzuki writes,

“Without a theory of cognition, therefore, Mahayana philosophy becomes incomprehensible. The Lanka is quite explicit in assuming two forms of knowledge: the one for grasping the absolute or entering into the realm of Mind-only, and the other for understanding existence in its dualistic aspect in which logic prevails and the Vijnanas are active. The latter is designated Discrimination (vikalpa) in the Lanka and the former transcendental wisdom or knowledge (prajna). To distinguish these two forms of knowledge is most essential in Buddhist philosophy.”

Thus the orientation of the Lankavatara is not that consciousness is reality itself, but that consciousness is the discriminating activity of mind that makes us cling to duality, and only by realization of the non-dual or oneness (ekagra) of Mind-only is the highest samadhi attained.

Suzuki also writes in his introduction to the Lankavatara translation,

“The Lanka is never tired of impressing upon its readers the importance of this understanding in the attainment of spiritual freedom; for this understanding is a fundamental intuition into the truth of Mind-only and constitutes the Buddhist enlightenment with which truly starts the religious life of a Bodhisattva. [...] The awaking of supreme knowledge (anuttarasamyaksambodhi) is the theme of the Prajnaparnmita-sutras, but in the Lanka the weight of the discourse is placed upon therealisation by means of Aryajnana of ultimate reality which is Mind-only. This psychological emphasis so distinctive of the Lanka makes this sutra occupy a unique position in Mahayana literature. 

In other words, the conception that "consciousness is reality" does not pierce the veil of consciousness, and only by piercing the veil of discriminating consciousness can people awaken to the ultimate reality of Mind-only.

To play with the translations for comparison, here are the side by side translations of the section Mr. Briggs selected, as translated by Red Pine, with the same section translated by Suzuki:

Red Pine wrote: Mahamati, words are not ultimate truth, nor is what they express ultimate truth. And how so? Ultimate truth is what buddhas delight in. And what words lead to is ultimate truth. But words are not ultimate truth. Ultimate truth is what is attained by the personal realization of buddha knowledge

Suzuki wrote: Mahamati, words are not the highest reality, nor is what is expressed in words the highest reality. Why? Because the highest reality is an exalted state of bliss, and as it cannot be entered into by mere statements regarding it, words are not the highest reality. Mahamati, the highest reality is to be attained by the inner realisation of noble wisdom;

Suzuki is translating from the Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo published by the Otani University Press in 1923. I don’t know yet which version Red Pine is using as his basic text, but I assume it is either this Sanskrit version or anotheer.  Suzuki compared the Nanjo Sanskrit version against the three extant Chionese translations of Gunabhadra, Bodhirucci, and Sikshananda and also one Tibetan translation. Based on this comparison Suzuki thought there must be some omissions in the Nanjo Sanskrit version. 

Comparing the last sentences of the two versions above:

RP: Ultimate truth is what is attained by the personal realization of buddha knowledge

DTS: the highest reality is to be attained by the inner realisation of noble wisdom;

The terms “ultimate truth” and “the highest reality” are translations of the Sanskrit word paramartha (C. 第一義, literally, e.g., “primary meaning” or “first truth”)  Other translations could be “the highest matter”, “the chief concern”, etc.  I prefer the Chinese literal translation “primary meaning” for the compound term “parama-artha.”

The terms “buddha knowledge” and “noble wisdom” are translations of aryajnana (C. 聖智).  Obviously, Red Pine is inserting the word “buddha” to help the reader know that the noble-knowledge being spoken of is the noble-knowledge of a Buddha.  But by leaving out the word “arya” that means "noble, honorable, highly esteemed, excellent, worthy one," etc., and inserting “buddha,” Red Pine is going further than I like in translation. The text has arya-jnana not buddha-jnana, so I feel obligated to translate it that way and not change arya-jnana to read buddha-jnana.

The Sanskrit word jnana is a difficult word to translate because it is usually translated as “knowledge” which unfortunately in English connotes more the image of what is the collected data rather than the pure ability to know. This is why Suzuki translates is as “wisdom,” to indicate that it is not the objects or data of knowledge but the act of knowing truly.  To explain what the term jnana means, I like the translation “innate intelligence” to indicate that it is not something acquired as knowledge of external things but the innate knowledge or intelligence that we become aware of by meditation that gives us the ability to know the true naturre and conditions of things.  But I admit it is a cumbersome term, since for some, “intelligence” also means “what is learned or understood” rather than the ability to learn or act of understanding.  


I translate this last sentence of the excerpt according to the three Chinese translations like this:

Gunabhadra: That which is the primary meaning is the noble intelligence to which one’s own realization attains.

Bodhirucci: That which is the primary meaning is the noble intelligence confirmed within.

Sikshananda: That which is the primary meaning is the noble intelligence within one’s own field of confirmation.


The Lanakvatara Sutra is a most interesting Sutra in that it does not have much of a narrative and after the opening section, it is primarily in the form of the Bodhisattva-mahasatva Mahamati asking questions about points of Buddha Dharma and Buddha responding to clarify how to perceive from the perspective of Mind-only. The Mind-only perspective is the stance of the Ekayana lineage that Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen lineage in China, brought from Southern India.

An early reference to Huike, the disciple and Dharmaheir of Bodhidharma, is found in the Continued Biographies of Emminant Monks () by Daoxuan () who was not himself a monk in the Zen lineage.  In telling about his contemporary,the monk Fachong who lectured on the Lankavatara, Daoxuan says that Fachong was a great admirer of the Lankavatara Sutra and lamented that it was not receiving the respect and recognition that it was due.  Fachong travelled extensively in his quest to propagate the Lankvatara and eventually he came upon a group of descendants of Huike who also studied the Lankavatara extensively. Here he had frequent insight into the "Great Point" and was certified to teach the Lankavatara. Then in further travels he met a monk, who had been intimately transmitted by Maser Ke himself, "relying on the One Vehicle lineage of Southern India to explain it." Fachong then lectured over 100 times on the Lankavatara.

Daoxuan states that Zen master (Bodhi)Dharma propagated the Lankavatara South and North: "Forgetting words, forgetting thoughts, and without attainment, the right insight was taken to be the lineage."  

The Zen lineage is comprised of all those who have Bodhidharma as their chief ancestor in the Buddha Dharma. Thus every student of Zen must at some time in their career study and realize the "Great Point" of the Lankavatara if they are to consider themselves a true descendant of Bodhidharma.  Certainly, to the extent that Red Pine's new translation makes the Lankavatara more accessible to Zen students, this new translation is a great and virtuous benefit to the Buddha Dharma.


Cross-posted at Zen Forum International at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Koans Are Not About Santa Claus

This essay is a reply to a talk titled “Dogen’s Use of Koans” by Griffith Foulk given on November 12, 2011, at the Bringing Dōgen Down to Earth conference held at FIU Miami.  The audio of the talk is available at Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Audio #124, -

Though I am critical of Foulk’s perspective on koans that is presented in this talk, I do very much appreciate his willingness to present his views and make them available to the public like this.  The Dharma neither increases nor decreases, but discussions of the Buddha Dharma like this help to increase people’s awareness and realization of the Dharma.

Griffith Foulk is an academic scholar and my criticism of his approach to koans is centered on his academic orientation on “understanding” koans, as if that is what koans are about.  Zen koans are not created by scholars, not used by academics, not appreciated by pundits, and not realized by professors; they are created, used, appreciated and realized by Zen practitioners.  This fundamental distinction is lost in talks by academics who tell their audience as Foulk does that after a brief academic presentation “You will understand koans.”  The core error with this type of “understanding” is that it applies an inert doctrine as an overlay to a living koan and then claims to have established “understanding” thereby.  This is like saying you understand a dog because you know the name of its breed and the major anatomical features of the species.  This kind of understanding is so limited that it in no way approaches real understanding of this particular living dog. Likewise, Foulk in no way has approached real understanding of the particular living koans.

Foulk’s talk is titled “Dogen’s Use of Koans” and he attempts to bring Dogen’s use of koans down to earth by presenting a key to understanding all koans through the use of two primary doctrines of Madhyamaka analysis, that is, the doctrines of emptiness and the two truths.  Most of the talk describes his method of understanding koans as metaphors used in the context of teaching emptiness. 

Foulk begins by alluding to the fact that there is a common misunderstanding that portrays Dogen as not using koans. Foulk is quite correct that this view is erroneous and that Dogen did indeed use koans frequently in his writings and talks as a central teaching device and that Dogen even compiled a collection of 300 koans.  It is most unfortunate that in the first half of the 20th century a legend arose within the Soto branch of Zen that Dogen was opposed somehow to koans.  It is amazing to consider how this legend grew independently of Dogen’s actual writings in which any plain reading must clearly observe Dogen’s abundant appreciation and use of koans.

In asking “What are koans?” Foulk also points out correctly that koans are not riddles as the term is commonly used and as koans are often misunderstood to be.  But then he refers to a koan and says, “When I’m done in ten minutes you’ll understand it,” which no one who seriously knows koans would ever say even in jest.  That a koan is not a riddle, i.e., a problem to be solved or guessed, doesn’t mean the opposite, that it is a locked box that can be opened simply by applying the doctrine of emptiness as a skeleton key to understand every koan.  .    

Foulk points out that because koans use striking imagery or irreverent non sequiturs that they are often thought of by some scholars as nonsensical statements intended to stop the workings of the intellect or to cut off discursive or dualistic thinking.  He dismisses this view as “totally idiotic,” because koans would not be around for over a thousand years if they were nonsensical.  But then he throws the baby out with the bath water and leaves aside the basic working of the koan: that even though the koan is not “nonsensical,” there is in fact a strong component to all koans that is intended to cut off dualistic thinking.  This is the soteriological “understanding” of koans whose purpose is to act as the ferry to cross over the ocean of afflictions by turning awareness around to its own source. This function of “turning the light around” is called in Sanskrit paravrtti and will be discussed further below.

On the question of the translation of the word “koan,’ Foulk says “The term ‘koan’ is often translated as ‘public case,’ but that also is not correct.” However, it is Foulk who is incorrect on this point.  The word koan as it has come into English is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word gongan composed of two characters gong (J. ko) and an (J. an). Foulk wants to make much out of the fact that gong means “public official, a magistrate or a judge” but he is just plain wrong when he says it doesn’t also mean “public” without the “official.” Chinese characters do not change form as English does when a noun is made plural, turned into a verb, or made into an adjective. So the term gong means both “public” and “public official” and the term gongan or koan means, depending on usage, either “public case” or “case of a public official.”  In the current usage within Zen practice, it makes much more sense to use just “public case” as the koan has become public and none of the players in koan are actually “public officials, magistrates, or judges” even though, as Foulk points out, they can be metaphorically imagined to be acting judicially.   This little detour into translation points just appears to be an attempt at scholarly one-upmanship. 

Next, Foulk presents some of the traditional contexts for koan use. He points out that in public meetings, a monk may come forward and ask about a koan or a teacher may raise a case on their own to comment on as part of their teaching.  Also a student may bring a koan into a private interview with the master.  However, at this point Foulk leaves out the most important aspect of current koan use in Zen practice today in those Zen schools that use koan inquiry, which is that in the private interview setting the teacher will raise a koan and present it to the student to measure or check the student’s realization.  This is the hub of all koan use, and Foulk’s omission or lacuna on this point says much about how he misperceives koans.

 The central point being made is the following: “Koans are not nonsensical. This is the point I want to stress. There is a standpoint from which they make sense and they’re perfectly logical. They do involve a lot of word play, punning, joking, metaphorical flights of fancy, but all of those are grounded in an understanding of the point being made.”   He concludes this analysis saying that “The meaning of any koan can be explained in logical philosophical language, but that’s not the rules of the game. The rules of the rhetorical game of commenting on them call for a rhetorical response in kind.” 

First, there are many different kinds of “understanding” and “logic” and Foulk seems to ignore that every understanding is based on its particular standpoint.  So koans may be “understood” from the standpoints of history, sociology, psychology, phenomenology, ontology, soteriology, etc., and even from a standpoint of Madhyamaka Buddology, but so what?  Of course there is a logical standpoint that can be overlaid onto koans to make them appear “perfectly logical” but does that really have anything to do with the function of koans or just with the analytical measuring tool that results in what is labeled as “understanding”?  

Koans are not “rhetorical games” and to call them such is to malign them just as much as one does by calling them “riddles.”  Why Foulk acknowledges that koans are not “riddles” but then calls them by the equally erroneous term “rhetorical games” is expressive of his scholarly approach in which nothing about koans is really understood, but the gamesmanship of the academy is front and center.  What Foulk misses is that the “logical philosophical language” that he uses to “understand” koans is after the fact of the koan itself and is merely a case of putting the cart before the horse.  Koans are about the horse, or the ox to use the more Buddhist associated animal, that is pulling the cart and not about the cart.  And focusing on the ox rather than the cart is not merely a rhetorical game; rather it is the essence of Zen itself and the factor that distinguishes Zen from all other forms of Buddhism that focus on the carts.  And it is the factor that Foulk has completely missed in this presentation.

Foulk would have people believe that koans are making points of Buddhist doctrine to be understood. This is wrong, but it is a nuanced error.  In its fundamental aspect, the koan represents a nexus or nodal point of awakening or potential for awakening.  Buddhism is about awakening and Buddhist doctrine when rightly understood is about the various paths to awakening. Therefore koans may be analyzed in terms of Buddhist doctrine because it is the function of Buddhist doctrine to analyze life in terms of awakening and koans are both about awakening and life.  But that analysis does not mean that the koan is understood, it only means that the doctrine applied to the koan is understood. There is a big difference between these two aspects. 

In other words, every koan has within it a presentation of some Buddha Dharma. Why? Because Buddha Dharma is about life and Buddha Dharma can be related to every aspect of life and koans represent life and thus also represent the Buddha Dharma of the life represented in the koan. 

I like the analysis that every koan can be understood through the multidimensional prism of the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  That is, every koan has a Buddha aspect, a Dharma aspect, and a Sangha aspect.  Foulk primarily focuses on the Dharma aspect and mostly ignores the Buddha aspect.  But more importantly, Foulk only focuses on one Dharma aspect, that of the Madhyamaka analysis of Emptiness and the Two Truths.  This is nothing other than a Buddhist version of philosophical reductionism.   

So how does this work for Foulk?  He compares Dogen’s use of koans with the Linji lineage Zen master Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲) (1089–1163), the most well known koan master of the time, as advocating focusing on the koan and “go into trance” to have a breakthrough experience.  The crassness of the term “trance” in this context is only understandable when one recognizes that Foulk has a pejorative view of koan practice calling it by the derogatory term “kanna zen.” He says Dogen did not advocate using koans as a device in mediation for a single moment of awakening and instead used koans in his teaching so that over a long period of time one would get a different point of view that could be called awakening.  Of course this ignores the fact that in his own life Dogen did indeed have a single moment of awakening, but whether it is Foulk or Dogen who is ignoring that Dogen had his own all important single moment of awakening is something to be left to another discussion.

Then Foulk takes up Dahui’s favorite koan and perhaps the most famous koan in the West, “Zhaozhou’s Dog.”  He relates the koan like this:

A monk asked Zhaozhou, “Even in a dog, is there Buddha nature or not?” 
And Zhaozhou said “Wu” (or in Japanese “Mu”).

Foulk explains that saying “Wu” means “there is none,” so that Zhaozhou is saying the dog does not have Buddha nature which files in the face of standard Buddhist teachings that all beings have Buddha nature.  Foulk then says it can be explained like this: “To ask if a dog has Buddha nature is just like asking, ‘Does Santa Claus have a red suit?’”

From here, Foulk goes wrong.  He says that everyone knows Santa Claus has a red suit just like all Buddhists know a dog has Buddha nature, but that everyone knows that Santa Claus does not exist and so the red suit also does not exist, just like Buddhists know that a dog does not exist so the Buddha nature of the dog also does not exist. It seems to make no difference to Foulk that the non-existence of Santa Clause is a different order of non-existence from the non-existence of either the dog or Buddha nature. By ignoring this distinction between the two kinds of non-existence, Foulk is ignoring an important distinction of Buddha Dharma. 

When he says Santa Claus doesn’t exist in an ultimate sense, he is relying on Madhyamaka analysis and its two primary doctrines of Emptiness and the Two Truths.  He says that the doctrine of Emptiness is that there is no subjective being and no objective thing (dharma) as both are mere empty categories, and the doctrine of the Two Truths is that there is the conventional truth that beings and things exist and the ultimate truth that in its Emptiness no being or thing exists. Foulk then goes on to say “Emptiness makes all language defective.” 

The limitations of this flawed dualistic analysis of the Two Truths are what led to the Yogacara analysis of the Three Natures or Three Truths.  In this analysis, there is a significant difference between an actual living dog and Santa Claus.   While both the dog and Santa Clause have the constructed nature of conventional truth, that is, the constructed images of identity based on language, only the dog has the interdependent nature that can be petted, can retrieve a ball, can lick its master’s face, etc., and Santa Claus doesn’t, and only the dog has the fulfilled nature of its Buddha nature and Santa Claus doesn’t.  In other words, the dog is a living being and Santa Claus is not. It is the evidence of Foulk’s entanglement in Madhyamaka philosophical scholasticism rather than Buddhist practice that he does not recognize this living distinction between a dog and Santa Claus and instead says, “there is no such thing as Santa Claus or a dog.” 

Based on this faulty analysis, Foulk then asserts that this view of Emptiness and the Two Truths is the underpinning of all of koan literature.  He says that since all language is defective because it can only convey conventional truth and never ultimate truth, that a hit or a blow is more appropriate than even saying “Wu” because even the word “Wu” is defective as it too is language.  In this shallow analysis, Foulk makes himself appear completely ignorant about how the “hit” is used to communicate various meanings or messages, none of which are usually a message that “language is defective.”  In other words, the “hit” presumes as its context the understanding that language is limited within the field of duality and that the hit is effective to get around the usual distractions of duality, but that is the presumption for the context of the message, not the message itself. Foulk loses this point completely.

Again, Foulk takes up another famous koan, again one with Zhaozhou as the protagonist, Zhaozhou’s Cypress Tree.  Foulk calls it the “Oak Tree in the Garden,” which, by the way, reveals that he is using the Japanese sources that call the tree an oak tree rather than the Chinese sources that call the tree a cypress tree. This koan, as I translate it, goes like this:

A monk asked Zhaozhou, “Like what was the intent of the ancestral founder coming from the west?”

Zhaozhou said, "The cypress tree in front of the hall.”

The “ancestral founder” is a reference to Bodhidharma who brought the Zen lineage to China in the East from India in the West. So the question translates into “What was the purpose of bringing Zen Buddhism to China?”  (Foulk unfortunately, misremembers this koan when he presents it and has it coming from Yunmen by mistake rather than Zhaozhou and he has the question as “What is Buddha?” rather than the question as above. Be that as it may, it doesn’t matter as far as Foulk’s wrong turn in understanding the koan.)

Foulk, then says, “When he is asked, ‘What is Buddha?’ how about saying ‘Santa Claus’?”  Like when he could not distinguish between the dog and Santa Claus, now Foulk is unable to distinguish between the living tree and Santa Claus.  This inability to differentiate between living breathing feeling sentient beings and myths on Foulk’s part must give us pause as this is the primary issue of the Bodhisattva path of Mahayana Buddhism.  . 

tTo Foulk “one of the tricks of koan rhetoric” is that if often uses metaphors and similes without using words like “like” or “as if” to indicate the presence of metaphor.  This is a bogus charge of the academic. No Zen practitioner worth his or her salt gets confused by such things.  Often, as the above example of the Cypress Tree shows, the word “like what” is often in the question, so there is no need for the reply to include it.  But even if the word “like” is not present there is no infirmity in the verbal exchange because it is not a rhetorical game relying on metaphor.  Foulk seems to completely misunderstand the use of metaphor in koans.  Yes the “Cypress Tree” can be seen as a metaphor, but that is only one aspect of it, and not even the main or central aspect.  More important, is the fact that the cypress tree is a living being actually present in its living appearance.  Again, this deconstructs Foulk’s “Two Truths” analysis, where all language is defective, in favor of the Zen preference for the “Buddha nature” analysis of living beings as expressions of living Suchness. 

It is at this turning point that Foulk misapprehends the point of koans.  Koans are not as Foulk states, teaching points about emptiness or the Two Truths based on the underpinning of seeing that ultimate truth is just the understanding of the limitations of language.  Koans are not about anything even remotely intellectual as that.  Koan work is within the context of recognizing that language is limited by its inherent duality, not by its inability to express ultimate truth. Koan work is about seeing through the limitations of the dualities that frame our views of reality and our lives, including the structural dualism of views such as doctrines of “the Two Truths.” 

In Foulk's view, koans are rhetorical games used for the purpose of teaching us the ultimate truth that language is defective. However, koans are not that at all. Koans are living expressions of teachers pulling out the nails and pegs of dualism that hold together our constructed realities.  Here, recognizing that language is limited is not the ultimate truth, but only the signpost that suggests we are going the wrong way in search of the ultimate truth that is our Buddha nature and own true suchness.  The point of koans is all about turning us around from grasping at externals based on our dualistic views, to turn the light of our own awareness around to see the source of awareness itself.  

This “turning around” is what I call the Buddha Treasure aspect of the koan.  The Dharma Treasure aspect is seeing how the koan relates and conveys an aspect of Buddhist teaching, and this Dharma Jewel aspect is often conveyed in metaphor as well as practical imagery and presence.  When Zhaozhou was asked what was the intent of Bodhidharma coming to China to convey the Zen lineage, his response of “The cypress tree in front of the hall,” was not a teaching about the emptiness of language like Santa Claus is empty, but about the living presence of a living tree in the living world before the hall.

In the metaphorical aspect, Zhaozhou was saying that as the tree gives shade and solace and beauty so does the practice of Zen.  He was saying, too, that this very tree and its actual location before that hall was the living realization of the purpose of Bodhidharma’s Zen lineage, not some conceptual idea as Foulk would have it about Two Truths or a fantasy that the existence and nonexistence of the cypress tree is equal to the existence and nonexistence of Santa Claus.. Zhaozhou’s response was leaping clear of that exact hot water of duality of existence and nonexistence that Dogen refers to in his essay Genjo Koan.  That which is the leaping clear of the dualistic framework of language is the Buddha aspect of complete unity and clarity that is in all koans, in both the question and response, and that is only found by the turning around that all the past Zen masters including Dogen emphasized in their practical teaching of zazen.

This turning around of paravrtti is at the heart of Dogen’s Zen just as it is at the heart of koan practice and is directly how he used koans in his literary efforts.  Everything that Dogen wrote that included koans was about confronting our own grasping at externals by affirming our dualistic frameworks and about turning around from that wrong practice.   Based on the paucity of the available records, none of us will ever know definitively how Dogen did or did not use koans in personal interviews or as meditation methods, but there are enough suggestions in his writings to confidently conclude that he used koans in both contexts of personal interviews and in meditation, at least to some degree.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Anima and Animus in Buddha Dharma

My intellectual goals regarding psychology and Buddhism are to harmoinze Buddha Dharma with archetypal depth psychology, as the truth of mind is necessarily both the basis of Buddha Dharma and of anything that can be called modern psychology (not to be confused with modern neuro-science masquerading as psychology).

In his archetypal depth psychology, Carl Jung presented the psychological view of the structure and function of consciousness that is remarkably similar, and I would say virtually identical, to the Buddhist analysis of the Five Skandhas and Eight Consciousnesses. That is, in looking at a zebra, it might be described by some as a horse with stripes or as a donkey with painted lines, but though the words differ the description indicates the same thing is being viewed. Likewise, though Jung's archetypal psychology uses a different framework and language, it is absolutely clear to me that he is observing the same mind and the same structure and function of consciousness that the Buddhist masters have observed. This is what makes it clear to me that mind is not something culturally conditioned, though cultural conditions may lead us to argue about our observations of the mind.

Question: I wonder how the Jungian anima and animus reflect in the five skandhas. It does look as though patriarchy reflects in both Buddhism and Jungian thought quite well. A hero with a thousand faces, sure, but all the faces are male. Zeus is a male. God is a male. Mohamed is a male. Brahman is male. And of course Buddha is male. 

Okay, let's see.

Q. How does the Jungian anima and animus reflect in the five skandhas?

Anima and animus are primary functions in relation to the ego complex, and I see them as aspects primarily of the fourth skandha.  To speak of the full complexity of the situation means to acknowledge that the anima and animus also rely on the first three skandhas, but their primary expression is as configurations of the fourth skandha upon which self-consciousness is constructed. 

The anima or animus is the reflective image of our ego-complex that takes our identity beyond the personal into the impersonal. It is the vital aspect of our feeling our life to be "animated" and filled with life. We come to know this aspect of our psyche throught the image of the "other", but it is the "other" that we are drawn to through the psychic energy called libido. As this "other" is the one that draws out our libido from being wrapped up in our personal self-image to move toward the world, it is met or felt through the image of the contra-sexual personification. Thus the male imagines the feminine anima, and the female imagines the masculine animus.  This is why sexual energy is the physical(ized) aspect of the psychic energy of libido, that is why we encounter the libido first as sexual energy.

Appreciation of the function of polarity and opposites that is expressed in the anima-animus analysis is also integral to the analytic framework of the skandhas.  This is made clear by Great Master Huineng in the Platform Sutra when he discusses the opposites in the context of teaching about the 5 skandhas and 18 Realms (dhatus).  Though he doesn't mention the specific pair of opposites of "male and female" he mentions pairs like "sun and moon," and "shady and sunny" (the synonyms of Yin and Yang") which are common images for male and female.  It is the polarity function of the skandhas that is the point of how the opposites of consciousness arise from the skandhas and manifest as opposites which confuse us and become false thinking when we disjoint the opposities and believe they can exist independently of the other.

The anima and animus is the function of consciousness that entices us out of the defensive position of the ego into engagement with the world. For example, using some of the opposites used by Huineng, if we see the world as cruel, the anima or animus can draw us into engagement through the anima or animus appearing compassionate. If we see the world as muddy, the anima or animus can draw us out by appearing clean or pure. Form and emptiness are likewise like this.

Q. A hero with a thousand faces, sure, but all the faces are male. Zeus is a male. God is a male. Mohamed is a male. Brahman is male. And of course Buddha is male.

Sure, we can't argue aginst the fact that patriarchy took over most of the world's societies.  But that does not mean that patriarchy is the truth, or that Buddhism is limited to patriarchy.  Over the years, the recognition of the problem of one-sided patriarchy became apparant.
Of course, Zeus was accompanied by the goddess Hera, and only a partisian of the patriarchy would dare to undervalue Hera and the other goddesses.

In Christianity, the mother Goddess was indeed missing in the Garden of Eden and only appears through her earthly messenger the serpent, who then becomes vilified by the father God, but this is rectified by the development of the Madonna image to take the place of the missing mother in the Garden.

In Buddhism, the the importance of and reintegration of the feminine arose in several ways. One way was the designation of the Prajna-paramita as the mother of the Buddhas. Another way was in the Sutras such as the Vimalakirti Sutra and Queen Srimala's Lion's Roar Sutra that explicitly portrayed women as every bit the equal of men. 

So, strictly speaking all the faces are not male.  But admittedly, in Buddhist countries the cultural patriarchy has been slow to respond (if at all) to the equality of opposites that Buddhism teaches. This is largely due to Buddhism usually taking a nonconfrontational approach to such cultural politics, or in some countries actually turning a blind eye to the problem of patriarchy.    

Q. How does the anima and animus function in relation to the defensive position of the ego?

The most important example of this within the context of the Buddha story is the appearance of the maiden Sujata. If we view the life story of Buddha as an embodied archetypal story of the journey of awareness to awakening, then the anima appears in a most pivotal and crucial role, that of the milk maid who rescues Buddha from the impending death caused by his own asceticism. 

While Buddha remained in the castle, he was still within the domain of family and tribe and so could not develop the individuation necessary for awareness to awaken. The ego must be developed for this. When Buddha left the palace this was the necessary initial stage of individuation of the ego. Buddha initially developed the ego by study of the Dharmas of any teacher he could find.  However, this is not sufficient on its own because the development of the ego under the sway of the fight or flight instincts creates the defensive position vis a vis the environment, i.e., the world, or an attack position. Thus the ego either defends against the world or wants to become a world conqueror. Study becomes a way of trying to conquer the world. Modern science shows us how this path turns out.  Thus for a conscientious ego, it becomes clear that the world cannot really be conquered by study, only more questions arise with every one answered, Only more ways that we are conquered by the world are shown to us, for example, DDT, radiation poisoning, global warning, as the humbling responses of the world to our attempts to conquer it.

In the Buddha’s story the ego-complex is played out by Buddha adopting the ascetic approach in which the world is simultaneously both defended against and attempted to be conquered by the same ascetic practices.  The ascetic believes the world can be conquered by not allowing it to attack oneself through the desires and needs of the flesh, The ascetic believes that the impure, dirty, confusing, and entangling world cannot conquer oneself if one literally removes oneself from the world’s influences. However, this is where the conscientious ego, though necessary in the developmental scheme of awareness, also comes to the limit of itself and the anima and animus are necessary to be constellated for the journey to continue to fruition.

The Buddha’s extreme indulgence of asceticism is the perfect example of the ego’s self aggrandizement and defending itself against the world by creating an image of the world’s muddy, impurity, ignorance, etc. and the ego-based idea that to overcome the world one must separate oneself from all of that muddiness, impurity, ignorance, etc.  Here the story of Buddha engaging in asceticism with five fellow ascetics is noteworthy because it show Buddha as the sixth consciousness of thinking attempting to remove himself from the world along with the five sense consciousnesses.  However, because Buddha carries this to the extreme, he is able to come to realize the hopelessness of this one-sided approach of the ego. At this stage then the anima is constellated first in the form of a lute, then in the form of the milk maid.

At first the anima comes to us in odd ways that we don’t necessarily recognize in anthropomorphic images.  Buddha at the edge of his despair is roused from his anguish by the sounds of the lute being played.  From this experience he comes to understand the embodied meaning of the Middle Way. If the strings are too loose they cannot make the melodious sound, if they are too tight they will break and not make any sound. Only the Middle Way of tuning between too loose and too tight will allow the string to vibrate and make music.  In the life story of Buddha, this is the first recognition of the Buddha that can truly be called Buddha Dharma. From this awareness of the Dharma activity of opposites heard in the vibrations of a lute string, the Buddha Dharma is born. Some versions of the story say that it was Indra who appeared in the passing boat playing the lute. This obviously points to the archetypal or mythic aspect of consciousness as the source of the experience. The lute itself is the anima image that through its sweet voice has drawn Buddha back to engagement with the world by the recognition of melody, tone, sweetness, etc. as playing their role and that the Way is to be found not by defending against or attempting to conquer the world. 

However, at this point the Buddha is so weak that he cannot even walk, so this means that the ego, if left only to its own resources will starve itself to death.  Something deep in the psyche is moved to rescue the ego from this predicament, and the Buddha story portrays this next anima movement (animation) by the milk maid.  There are several versions of this story, as there should be with any truly archetypal story. One version has a passing goat herd boy come by and offer goat’s milk to rescue the Buddha, but this seems to be a version tinged with patriarchal aversion to the female image that is intended to erase the sexualized aspects of the anima from the story. This misunderstanding comes because the tree that Buddha was sitting under was called “the tree of the goatherd” (ajapala).  Other versions just say “villagers brought him food.” The more archetypically authentic stories portray the milk maid version. Here’s one.

The young woman was named Sujata (“well born”).  (Here it should be noted that Sujata also is one of the names or epithets of the Buddha himself, so this is another way of pointing to the archetypal context of the story where the maid Sujata is the anima figure of the Buddha Sujata.)   Sujata the maid had been lamenting her inability to conceive a child. She goes to the village sage who tells her that in order for her to become pregnant that she must provide the tree [i]deva[/i] (or divinity of the tree) with a special mixture of rice milk.   Sujata prepares the milk by using milking the best cows and feeding that milk to better cows and then feeding that milk to better cows until she has the best milk possible. Then she mixes is with the best rice and goes to the forest to offer it to the tree deity of “the goatherd tree.”  Buddha happens to be sitting under this tree and in his completely emaciated state he is unrecognizable as a human and Sujata believes him to be the tree deva and offers her milk and rice mixture to Buddha in a golden bowl. . Buddha receives the rice milk and is saved from starvation and revived.   The archetypal story continues with the golden bowl being tossed into the river and floating upstream with the involvement of the Nagas but that can be explored at another time.  At this point it suffices to say that the involvement of the Naga here is the transition of the anima figure to the deeper imagery of the psyche.

What is the necessary food that the anima brings to us to save us from the starvation diet of the ego complex and aid us in our enlightenment?  We learn something from Bodhidharma when he is asked about this in the work attributed to him called “The Discourse on Breaking Up Appearances” (破相論), loosely translated by Red Pine as “The Breakthrough Sermon.” 

This discourse is historically important to Zen as it clarifies many points of differentiation between the Three Vehicles approach to Buddha Dharma already present in China when Bodhidharma arrived, and the perspective of the One Vehicle Lineage of Southern India that Bodhidharma brought to China.   The Discourse is presented in the classical style as interrogatories on points of Dharma with Bodhidharma’s responses.  The gist of the Discourse is that “Only the one Dharma of contemplating Mind unites and includes all Dharmas and is superlative for introspecting the essential.”  After this point is made, the Discourse explores how the Buddha Dharma is perceived from this perspective. 
At one point the interrogator asks about the story of Buddha having to receive Sujata’s offering before realizing enlightenment. This doesn’t make sense to the questioner if just contemplating Mind is the direct Dharma Gate to enlightenment. 

Here’s Red Pine's translation:

[Q.] But when Sbakyamuni was a bodhisattva, he consumed three bowls of milk and six ladles of gruel prior to attaining enlightenment. If he bad to drink milk before be could taste the fruit of buddhahood, how can merely beholding the mind result in liberation?
[A.] What you say is true. That is how he attained enlightenment. He had to drink milk before he could become a Buddha. But there are two kinds of milk. That which Shakyamuni drank wasn’t ordinary impure milk but pure dharma-milk. The three bowls were the three sets of precepts. And the six ladles were the six paramitas. When Shakyamuni attained enlightenment, it was because he drank this pure dharma-milk that he tasted the fruit of buddhahood. To say that the Tathagata drank the worldly concoction of impure, rank-smelling cow’s milk is the height of slander. That which is truly so, the indestructible, passionless dharma-self, remains forever free of the world’s afflictions. Why would it need impure milk to satisfy its hunger or thirst?
The sutras say, "This ox doesn’t live in the highlands or the lowlands. It doesn’t eat grain or chaff. And it doesn’t graze with cows. The body of this ox is the color of burnished gold." The ox refers to Vairocana. Owing to his great compassion for all beings, he produces from within his pure Dharma-body the sublime Dharma-milk of the three sets of precepts and six paramitas to nourish all those who seek liberation. The pure milk of such a truly pure ox not only enabled the Tathagata to achieve buddhahood but also enables any being who drinks it to attain unexcelled, complete enlightenment. (From [i]Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma[/i], translated by Red Pine, p. 91-93.

Here's my translation:
Question. The Sutra says that at the time the Tathagata of the Sakyas was a Bodhisattva he had already drank three pecks (about 6 gallons) and six liters of milk and rice gruel just to complete the Buddha Way. Before, because he drank the milk, afterwards he could bear witness to the Buddha fruit. How could it be that merely contemplating mind attains liberation?!

Answer: Truly know that which you declare is without falsehood! Certainly, because he ate the milk like that at first, he became Buddha. Of that which is declared to be “eating milk” there are two kinds. That which is the food of the Buddha was not indeed the worldly milk of impurity and actually was the clear and pure Dharma milk of True Suchness! That which was three pecks exactly was the three collected pure precepts. That which was six liters exactly was the six paramitas. At the time of completing the Buddha Way from eating the clear and pure Dharma milk like this, just then he could bear witness to the Buddha fruit. If it is declared that the Tathagata ate the worldly concoction that was the rank and malodorous milk of the ox of impurity, h1ow could it not be the extreme of the wrong of slander?!
That which is true suchness itself is the indestructible diamond (vajra) without leakage, the Dharmakaya forever free from every and all sufferings of the world. How could it be necessarily so, that the milk of impurity is used to fill the hunger and thirst? It is like the (Mahaparinirvana) Sutra which articulates, “This ox does not dwell in the high plains and does not dwell in the low wetlands, does not eat unhulled rice, horse grain, chaff or bran, and doesn’t participate with the bull ox in common with the herd. The color of this ox body is made violet as burnished gold." That which is declared here as “the ox” is Virocana Buddha! Because of using great compassion and sympathy for everyone, from within the embodiment of the clear and pure Dharma is produced like this the subtle Dharma milk of the three collected pure precepts and the six paramitas to nurture everyone of those who seek liberation. So indeed the milk of clarity and purity from the ox of true purity is not only to complete the Way of the Tathagata’s drinking; for everyone of the multitude of beings, if they are those who are capable of drinking, then in all cases they attain unexcelled unified thorough enlightenment.

Here we see that Bodhidharma takes the story out of the literal to the archetypal level and explains that what Buddha received at the hands of Sujata was not common milk but the Milk of the Dharma of the Cosmic Buddha. This is important to understand because it is not the anima that provides enlightenment; the anima is the intermediary who brings the initial taste of enlightenment. The anima does not give us enlightenment but is the one who enables us to be fortified to find the place where we can realize enlightenment.  Thus Buddha was able to rise from underneath the “goatherd tree” and move to sit under the Bodhi Tree by the nourishment provided by the anima.

There is an important point here in that when Buddha accepted the food from the anima Sujata, the five ascetic companions left him in disgust as if he had given up on the quest for awakening.  This is the portrayal of the abandonment of the five sense consciousness as the sixth consciousness turns inward toward the eighth consciousness. More importantly, it shows that when the anima brings the ego out of the self-world opposition, the awareness now can either chose to re-engage in the world as ego or turn away form the world and ego to go further and deeper in contemplating the mind. As Buddha is the one who awakens, the Buddha story tells us the anima’s nourishment is to be used to continue the journey to the Bodhi Tree, not to return to the ordinary world. Thus the awareness that has transcended mere ego awareness by the help of the anima now turns from engagement with the five senses to engagement in direct contemplation of mind.  At this point the seventh consciousness appears in the archetypal figure of Mara and attempts to dissuade, confuse, and scare us from the task of directly perceiving the eighth consciousness. 

So the role of the anima (or animus for female practitioners) is crucial for awakening as awakening is told in the story of Buddha.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Five Skandhas

Here are some comments about the Buddhist analytical framework known as the Five Skandhas.  I'm riffing off of the entry by Barbara O'Brien.

The block quotes are from Ms. O;'Brien:

What are the skandhas? Here is a basic guide. (The non-English names given for the skandhas are in Sanskrit unless otherwise noted.)

The First Skandha: Form (Rupa)

Rupa is form or matter; something material that can be sensed. In early Buddhist literature, rupa includes the Four Great Elements (solidity, fluidity, heat, and motion) and their derivatives. These derivatives are the first five faculties listed above (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) and the first five corresponding objects (visible form, sound, odor, taste, tangible things).

Another way to understand rupa is to think of it as something that resists the probing of the senses. For example, an object has form if it blocks your vision -- you can't see what's on the other side of it -- or if it blocks your hand from occupying its space.

In one sense, the Skandha of Form is the trickiest to think about. Why? Because it is the suggestion of what is beyond thinking by using objectifying language. In other words it is the psychic view of "the physical."  As Carl Jung pointed out, once we take the POV of psychology, we have to stand within the field of the psyche and can no longer pretend that we are standing within the field of the physis or physical world.. In other word what we call "form", "matter", "material", "things" are all categories or differentiations of mind. This is the view of the Lankavatara and the other Mahayana sutras that teach the unity of mind.  Once the unity of mind is recognized there is no way to "step outside" of mind.  Therefore there is no "form" outside of the differentiation of mind, only our attempts to develop a consensual reality.  This why the first skandha is all important but so often overlooked in discussion of the skandhas.  In Zen, when phrases like "the bottom of the bucket opens" or "dropping mind and body", it is the letting go of the materialist view of the first skandha that is being referred to by the "bottom breaking" or "dropping body." 

Each skandha has one or more core polarities associated with it, indeed we can say it is the field of that polarization that makes the skandhas identifiable as a numbered skandha.  With the first skandha, it is the polarization of "inside and outside", "subjective and objective", that is primary.

The Second Skandha: Sensation (Vedana)

Vedana is physical or mental sensation that we experience through contact of the six faculties with the external world. In other words, it is the sensation experienced through the contact of eye with visible form, ear with sound, nose with odor, tongue with taste, body with tangible things, mind (manas) with ideas or thoughts.

It is particularly important to understand that manas -- mind -- in the skandhas is a sense organ or faculty, just like an eye or an ear. We tend to think that mind is something like a spirit or soul, but that concept is very out of place in Buddhism.

Because vedana is the experience of pleasure or pain, it conditions craving, either to acquire something pleasurable or avoid something painful.

 By referring to "the external world" Ms. O'Brien is showing that she is standing on the first skandha as if it exists objectively.  Here we see how the skandhas begin to construct a worldview, or a view of reality.  The second skandha is also called "reception" because it acts in relation to this primal split between internal and external. In other words, what we call sensory data is discriminated on the basis that there is an internal and external reality and that the data is coming from an external reality.  This works fine for light and sound which we say come from outside, and becomes a little fuzzy with smell and taste as they are sensed as being in the nose and mouth, and then very fuzzy with touch sensations in the body and completely fuzzy with ideation in the mind.   

 By receiving sensory data pre-screened as it were by the first skandha's polarized division into inside and outside, (me and not me, etc.) the next primary polarization is the allotment of that sense data into the categories of the primary characterization of "pleasure and pain" or "attractive and repulsive", etc. Now we have four boxes for every sensory quantum which are (1) the inside and pleasurable, (2) the inside and not pleasurable, (3) the outside and pleasurable, and (4) the outside and not pleasurable. This basic framework is the foundation for the construction of the house of views that we build.

The Third Skandha: Perception (Samjna, or in Pali, Sanna)

Samjna is the faculty that recognizes. Most of what we call thinking fits into the aggregate of samjna.

The word "samjna" means "knowledge that puts together." It is the capacity to conceptualize and recognize things by associating them with other things. For example, we recognize shoes as shoes because we associate them with our previous experience with shoes.

When we see something for the first time, we invariably flip through our mental index cards to find categories we can associate with the new object. It's a "some kind of tool with a red handle," for example, putting the new thing in the categories "tool" and "red." Or, we might associate an object with its context -- we recognize an apparatus as an exercise machine because we see it at the gym.

I very much disagree with Ms. O'Brien's statement that most of what we call thinking fits into the samjna skandha.  Thinking is much more complex and in fact we don't even have conscious thinking until the fifth skandha so most of what we "call" thinking is conscious thinking, so is not often even considered at these unconscious levels of the first four skandhas. 

This skandha is of course as she points out integral to the formation of thinking because it is the beginning of the putting together of the differentiations of mind that becomes thinking. It is the third skandha that begins to relate all the items previously labeled according to the four boxes of the first two skandhas, and by using these four-colored building blocks the third skandha puts them together into the nearly infinitely varied patterns (dharmas) of our consciousness code like the four amino acids of DNA are put together to form the mind boggling number of combinations in the genetic code. 

It is this conceptualization of associations that we call "perception" in that we are now beginning to be able recognize patterns and call them things (dharmas).   Here the multitude of polarities abound and there is no primary polarity as associated with the first, second, and fourth skandhas. That is, the entire world is polarized with such polarities as "soft and hard", "smooth and rough", "male and female",  etc.

The Fourth Skandha: Mental Formation (Samskara, or in Pali, Sankhara)

All volitional actions, good and bad, are included in the aggregate of mental formations. How are actions "mental" formations? Remember the first lines of the dhammapada (Acharya Buddharakkhita translation)--

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.

The aggregate of mental formations is associated with karma, because volitional acts create karma. Samskara also contains latent karma that conditions our attitudes and predilections. Biases and prejudices belong to this skandha, as do interests and attractions.

This is the most psychologically challenging of the skandhas to understand. In the context of Jungian archetypal psychology, the fourth skandha is all the mental formations that at one end are the individual complexes and at the other end are the archetypes of the collective unconscious.  The "ego" or "self" is only one of the complexes, though it is the individual pole of the primary axis of the mental formations that at the other end is the collective pole that goes by the names of "Self", "God", "Atman" etc. The two ends of this primary axis of mental formations are the "I thou" relationship.  However, the mental formations are not a completely connected structure, but more like a solar system or galaxy in which many formations are whirling around in a gravitational relationship but have their own sense or appearance of autonomy in various circumstances.

It is the appearance of autonomy within the central mental formation of the "ego complex" that is the basis for our sense of personal independence and identity. It is this sense of personal independence and identity that is the basis for our self-mage of responsibility and intention. It is this sense of responsibility and intention that is the basis for our karma. That is why the fourth skandha is sometimes identified as "volition." 

Ms. O'Brien's saying "All volitional actions, good and bad..." points to another important factor. It is with the fourth skandha that the primary polarity of "good and bad" is developed. At the level of the second skandha there is "pleasure and pain" that acts as the seed of the polarity of "good and bad", but it is not until the activity of the fourth skandha that second skandha polarity becomes developed in the mental formations and "good and bad" are materialized.   This is why pleasure is not the sole determining factor of what is "good" though it is a significant factor.  The ability to substitute an ideal as a higher good than pleasure is a function of the mental formations as the ego complex interacts with other complexes that create identities such as tribal or national identity in which we would sacrifice our personal pleasure for a greater good. In the religious context it is those factors that become associated with the "god pole" of the central axis that become identified with "the greatest good."  For those who do not identify the collective pole of the central axis with a personality image such as a father god or mother goddess, other images may act as substitutes such as "the people", "the nation", "money,"  "family" etc.

In Zen, getting free from the control of the polarized fields of the fourth skandha's mental formations is what is referred to as "not thinking good and evil."  

The Fifth Skandha: Consciousness (Vijnana, or in Pali, Vinnana)

Vijnana is a reaction that has one of the six faculties as its basis and one of the six corresponding phenomena as its object. For example, aural consciousness -- hearing -- has the ear as its basis and a sound as its object. Mental consciousness has the mind (manas) as its basis and an idea or thought as its object.

It is important to understand that consciousness depends on the other skandhas and does not exist independently from them. It is an awareness but not a recognition, as recognition is a function of the third skandha. This awareness is not sensation, which is the second skandha. For most of us, this is a different way to think about "consciousness."

It is also important to remember that vijnana is not "special" or "above" the other skandhas. It is not the "self." It is the action and interaction of all five skandhas that create the illusion of a self.

Having an appreciation of the fifth skandha of consciousness and how it functions within the scheme of analysis known as the five skandhas is essential to understanding the wisdom pointed to by the analytical framework.

Ms. O'Brien's caveats about remembering that consciousness is neither separate nor independent from the other four skandhas is well taken. Another way of saying this is that the distinction of the five skandhas are an expedient means of discussing "one mind" or "one suchness."

However, I would add another caveat that consciousness is not just "a reaction that has one of the six faculties as its basis and one of the six corresponding phenomena as its object." since that conceptualization is a construct of the four skandhas as well.  The terms "six faculties" and "six corresponding phenomena" are both phrases that are the result of the first four skandhas.  There is no such thing as a "phenomena" that is outside the skandhas. There is no such thing as a "faculty" that is outside the skandhas.  "Phenomena" and "faculty" are third skandha appearances that become associated with the "good and bad" evaluations of the fourth skandha so that we congratulate ourselves for the good idea that consciousness is a reaction that has one of the six faculties as its basis and one of the six corresponding phenomena as its object. 

To the extent that the term "consciousness only" became associated as consciousness without the appreciation of the other four skandhas the term became one-sided and thus "mind only" was necessary to point to the conscious and unconscious functions that result in our conscious awareness.  Awareness of itself is crystal clear, but it is by the friction created by the polarizations of mind that light and shadow are created that then becomes developed into "self consciousness" by which we humans are able to engage in a level of awareness that we call awakening to get free from the selfishness of self consciousness and realize the consciousness of no self, no nature, no mind.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My new translation of "Inscription on Silent Illumination"

This is my most recent translation completed today. 9/18/11.

Inscription on Silent Illumination

Mo Zhao Ming

By Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue of Tiantong (1091-1157)

In silent silence, forgetting speech.
In bright brightness, appearing in front.
When reflected upon, you’re wide open.
Where embodied, numinous.

The solitary illumination of the numinous
Illuminates within and returns to the wondrous.
The moon in the dew, the starry river,
The snowy pine, the cloudy mountain peak.

In the dark yet universally bright.
In hiding yet all the more evident.
The crane dreams the cold of mist.
The water contains the depth of autumn. 

The vast kalpas are empty emptiness
Appearances are all together identical.
The wondrous is preserved at the place of silence
Achievement is forgotten within illumination

What is preserved to preserve the wondrous?
Wide awake breaks up confusion.
The path of silent illumination,
The root of freedom from minutiae.

The unobstructed view is free from minutiae,
The gold shuttle, the jade loom.
The straight and the biased revolve,
The bright and dim are causally dependent.

Depending on nothing is the location of capability.
When at the foundation, turning around mutually.
Drinking the medicine of good views,
Beating the drum smeared with poison. 

Turning around mutually when at the foundation
Killing or saving life is on us.
From inside the gate emerges the body;
The tip of the branch bears the fruit.

When only silence is the perfect speech,
When only illumination is the universal response,
Response does not fall into achievement.
Speech does not involve listening.

The 10,000 phenomena infinitely connected together
Shine freely and articulate the Dharma
All that proving clearly.
Each and every one questioning and answering.

Questioning and answering, proving clearly,
Precisely mutually responding.
If within illumination you lose silence,
Immediately you see aggressiveness.  

Proving clearly, questioning and answering,
Mutually responding precisely.
If within silence you lose illumination
The muddiness becomes remaining things (dharmas).

The principle of silent illumination complete,
The lotus opens, the dream awakens.
The hundred rivers go into the sea.
The thousand summits face the highest peak. 

Like the goose choosing the milk,
Like the bee picking the flowers.
The reaching and attaining of silent illumination
Conveys our family of the [Zen] lineage.

The silent illumination of the family of the [Zen] lineage,
Penetrates to the top, penetrates to the foundation.
The body of emptiness,
The arms of the mudra. 

The one important event from start to finish,
By the manner of transformation is 10,000 differences.
Huo Shi presented an unpolished gem
Xiangru pointed out the flaw. 

To suit the capacities [of people] there are standards.
The great function does not strive.
Within the palace walls, the Son of Heaven.
Outside of the barriers, the General.

The foundation and affair of our family:
Within the compass, within the carpenter’s square.
Transmit it going in every direction.
It is not important to earn praise.

~The Chinese text at CBETA begins at T48n2001_p0100a25(00).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Archetypal Buddhism

Comment: I really found it interesting that after Buddha's awkening he didn't have that desire to save all beings. He had to be persueded by some diety to teach.

This is a great episode in the Buddha story. As I remember the story, it is not that "he didn't have that desire to save all beings," but that he had the desire yet didn't see how he could effectively communicate what he had experienced to anyone. He was at a standstill point of tension between the idealistic desire to save and the practical realities of how to proceed seeming insurmountable. Who of us does not experience this? His dilemma was that he directly perceived the timeless and wordless profound wisdom (prajna) and inherent intelligence (jnana), yet he felt that on the one hand he was incapable of putting them into words that could be understood by the people of his time, and on the other hand there would be no people who would be able to benefit from the words that he could formulate as opposed to just being made more confused by them.

The appearance of Indra, the "supreme diety" of this dimension, is the recognition of the archetypal truth that our motivation occurs only when an archetypal figure is constellated within mind. Without some kind of constellation (discrimination, differentiation) of an archetypal figure (i.e., a primary configuration of 4th shandha) there is no motivation for us to act. It is just as true to say that every one of our acts has as its motivating mental configuration one or another primary archetypal figure as its constellation or context. Without the primary archetypal figures of the 4th skandha there would be no fruition of consciousness as 5th skandha. The archetypal figures are the constellations in the firmament of our own mind which is the One Mind of No Mind.

In Buddhist terminology, every nirmanakaya Buddha has a samboghakaya Buddha as its intermediate progenitor and the dharmakaya Buddha as ultimate progenitor.

Consciousness depends on our personal complexes which in turn depend on our impersonal or collective archetypes. Self-consciousness is possible because the primary archetype of "god-self" formed in the nascent interaction of discrimination ("the 7th consciousness") where the ocean of concsiouness ("the 8th consciousness") is first stirred can become manifested in the derivitive ego-complex that organizes the reflectivity of consciousness (the 6th consciousness) in relation to the senses (the 1st thru 5th consciousnesses) into the experience of self-conciousness or self-awareness.  This  process develops over years so that sometime around age 6-8 we have a mostly developed self-consciousness based on the establishment of a self-image (ego complex) that is possible because of the "god-self" archetype having been constellated in mind.